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Frequent-Flier Blackout Dates Go Dark on Northwest

News, Tips & Bargains

January 27, 2002

Northwest Airlines is eliminating a major source of complaints from frequent fliers: blackout dates for award travel. It claims to be the first U.S. airline to do so.

Airlines traditionally bar frequent fliers from booking award travel on holidays and at other peak travel periods. Northwest says it will drop that ban for award flights booked after March 1. Last year, its blackout dates included 12 in the U.S. plus all summer weekends between the U.S. and Europe, said spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch.

The end of the ban, however, doesn't mean a guaranteed seat around, say, Thanksgiving. Airlines usually set aside only a percentage of their seats for frequent fliers. Northwest said that only a "limited inventory" of such seats will be available for peak days and destinations.

Stephen Usery, vice president of marketing for competitor US Airways, accused Northwest of creating "false expectations" because "you have the same number of people competing for the seats." US Airways waives blackout dates only for frequent fliers who log at least 25,000 miles or 25 segments per year under the program.

Although a couple of airlines waive blackout dates for their highest-mileage customers, Northwest is the first U.S. airline to waive them for all frequent fliers, said Randy Petersen, founder of Inside Flyer magazine and an expert in the field. He added that in recent years airlines have been gradually cutting back on blackout dates and that it is likely other airlines will follow Northwest's lead.

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